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“There are parts of our calling, works of the Holy Spirit, and defeats of the darkness that will come no other way than through furious, fervent, faith-filled, unceasing prayer.”

~ Beth Moore

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How to See More Beauty in the Bible

Article by

Founder & Teacher, desiringGod.org

Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law. (Psalm 119:18)

All of us know what it is like to read without seeing “wondrous things.”

We have stared at the most glorious things without seeing them as glorious. We have seen unspeakable love without feeling loved. We have seen immeasurable wisdom and felt no admiration. We have seen the holiness of wrath and felt no trembling. Which means we are seeing without seeing (Matthew 13:13).

This is why we must weave the thread of God-dependent prayer into our reading: “Show me your glory” (Exodus 33:18). God has made plain that the path to seeing his peculiar glory is prayer. How much light have we forfeited by failure to pray over the word we are reading! “You do not have, because you do not ask” (James 4:2).

Glory Shines in the Meaning

True understanding of the apostolic word is a free gift of God. We do not find it on our own. It is given. That is why we pray, “Give me understanding.” But the divine gift of understanding does not nullify our natural effort to understand the Bible. We see this in 2 Timothy 2:7: “Think over what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything.”

When we pray for God to show us his glory in the Scripture, we are not asking him to bypass the meaning of the text, but to open the fullness of the author’s meaning. Therefore, in our quest to see and savor the glory of God in Scripture, we pray for his help to grasp the basic meaning of the words. Glory does not hover over the text like a cloud to be seen separately from what the authors intended to communicate. It shines in and through what they intended to communicate — their meaning.

Even this is not quite the way to say it, because the glory is part of what they intended to communicate. But I think it is helpful to distinguish the basic meaning of a passage, on the one hand, and the worth and beauty of the message, on the other hand. I know they are not really separable. And both are part of what the author wants us to experience. Perhaps an illustration will help us see why I think the distinction is important, and how it relates to prayer.

Heaven or the Countryside?

In Philippians 1:23, Paul says, “My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better.” Suppose some careless reader knew that Paul was in Rome and assumed Paul meant that his desire was to depart from Rome and be with Christ in a more rural, peaceful place than the dangerous urban center of the empire. And suppose the reader feels that this is a wonderful thought, full of sweet implications about the value of nature and peacefulness for the soul’s refreshment.

Well, he would be wrong. First, this careless reader got the basic meaning wrong. Paul did not intend to say anything about departing from Rome to the countryside, or about the value of rural peacefulness. He intended to say that he desired to depart this life and be with Christ in heaven. So our reader simply missed Paul’s intention.

But it gets worse. On the basis of the wrong meaning, this careless reader also saw a kind of glory that was not there. He felt a sweetness about peaceful, rural living for the refreshment of the human soul. That feeling has no basis in this text. He has seen something he would call glorious or wonderful. But the glory and the wonder are not there.

The point of that illustration is this: when the psalmist prayed, “Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law” (Psalm 119:18), he did not mean that the sight of wonders could skip the natural process of careful reading. Therefore, prayer does not take the place of careful interpretation. Prayer serves careful interpretation. We pray not just for the sight of glory, but for the help in grasping the meaning through which the glory shines.

The way God illumines the text is by showing what is really there. This means that when we want to make a case for how we understand a text, we must show what is really there. One good, solid grammatical argument for what the text means outweighs every assertion that the Holy Spirit told me the meaning. The reason that statement is not irreverent is that it takes more seriously the glorious work of the Holy Spirit in inspiring the grammar than it does the subjective experiences of an interpreter who ignores it.

Prayer Improves Every Method

However we describe the levels of a text’s meaning, prayer is fruitful at every level. God not only opens the eyes of our heart to see his glory; he also guides us providentially in the whole process of interpretation — even the most natural parts. He is sovereign over all of it. He governs every part of our textual observation or thinking or research. Jesus said that not a sparrow falls to the ground apart from our heavenly Father (Matthew 10:29). So it is with Bible reading. We do not make the smallest discovery without God’s providential guidance.

So we should be praying for God’s guidance repeatedly during the entire process of reading and studying the Bible. The number of things you could pray for to help you see what is in the Scripture is as great as the number of strategies for getting insight. God can make all of them more fruitful, if we ask him. This would include:

  • Prayer to help you pay close attention to all the features of a text.
  • Prayer to guide you to notice parts of the text that are especially illuminating.
  • Prayer to lead you to other passages in the Bible that would shed light on the one you are reading.
  • Prayer to lead you to other books or sermons or lectures that would be useful in shedding light on some problem you have run into.
  • Prayer for experiences, or a reminder of experiences you’ve had, that would make what you are reading more real.
  • Prayer for friends who could study the Bible with you and help you see things you haven’t seen.
  • Prayer against any sinful habits or inclinations that might blind you to a part of Scripture you would find uncomfortable.
  • Prayer that as you write the text down in your journal, you would notice things you missed in simply reading.

Anything that helps you pay closer attention to what is actually written, pray about this. Ask God to make it more illuminating than it would be without his help.

For the rest of the post…

“But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.”

~ Luke 5:16 (NIV)

If Jesus needed to pray, how much more do we?

by Robert Murray M’Cheyne (1813 – 1843)

Robert Murray M’Cheyne was a nineteenth-century Church of Scotland minister revered for the depth of his piety. Upon hearing him preach, a listener once wrote, “I saw in you a beauty in holiness that I never saw before.”1 He served two churches, including St. Peter’s Church in Dundee, before dying at age 29.

Upon M’Cheyne’s death, ministerial colleague Andrew Bonar published a biography that included many of his manuscripts and letters. Taken from that work, this selection illustrates his determination to fight sin through spiritual disciplines. It shows the intensity with which this servant of God craved communion with his Heavenly Father.

I ought to pray before seeing any one. Often when I sleep long, or meet with others early, and then have family prayer, and breakfast, and forenoon callers, often it is eleven or twelve o’clock before I begin secret prayer. This is a wretched system. It is unscriptural. Christ rose before day, and went into a solitary place. David says, ‘Early will I seek Thee; Thou shalt early hear my voice.’ Mary Magdalene came to the sepulchre while it was yet dark. Family prayer loses much of its power and sweetness; and I can do no good to those who come to seek from me. The conscience feels guilty, the soul unfed, the lamp not trimmed. Then, when secret prayer comes, the soul is often out of tune. I feel it is far better to begin with God—to see his face first—to get my soul near him before it is near another. ‘When I awake I am still with Thee.’

If I have slept too long, or am going [on] an early journey, or my time is any way shortened, it is best to dress hurriedly, and have a few minutes alone with God, than to give it up for lost.

For the rest of the post…

Prayer_2Here are ten reminders for pastors about the vital need to cultivate their personal prayer life, as articulated by notable ministers from church history.

1. True effectiveness in ministry comes not through methods, but through prayer.

A. C. Dixon: When we rely upon organization, we get what organization can do; when we rely upon education, we get what education can do; when we rely upon eloquence, we get what eloquence can do, and so on. Nor am I disposed to undervalue any of these things in their proper place, but when we rely upon prayer, we get what God can do.

Source: A. C. Dixon. Cited from John Piper, Brothers We Are Not Professionals, 71.

D. L. Moody: Those who have left the deepest impression on this sin-cursed earth have been men and women of prayer.

Source: D. L. Moody, Great Preaching on Prayer, 8:119.

E. M. Bounds: What the Church needs today is not more machinery or better, not new organizations or more and novel methods, but men and women whom the Holy Ghost can use — people of prayer, people mighty in prayer.

Source: E. M. Bounds, The Classic Collection on Prayer, 584.

* * * * *

2. A pastor’s prayer-life is indicative of the state of his walk with the Lord.

John Owen: A minister may fill his pews, his communion roll, the mouths of the public, but what that minister is on his knees in secret before God Almighty, that he is and no more.

Source: John Owen. Cited from I. D. E. Thomas, A Puritan Golden Treasury, 192.

Charles Spurgeon: I know of no better thermometer to your spiritual temperature than this, the measure of the intensity of your prayer.

Source: Charles Spurgeon, The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, 41:518.

* * * * *

3. Prayer is a vital means of sanctification.

J. C. Ryle: Prayer and sinning will never live together in the same heart. Prayer will consume sin, or sin will choke prayer.

Source: J. C. Ryle, Home Truths, 114.

John R. W. Stott: To pray is not only to be truly godly; it is also to be truly human. For here are human beings, made by God like God and for God, spending time in fellowship with God. So prayer is an authentic activity in itself, irrespective of any benefits it may bring us. Yet it is also one of the most effective of all means of grace. I doubt if anybody has ever become at all Christ-like who has not been diligent in prayer.

Source: John R. W. Stott, Christian Basics, 128.

* * * * *

4. Neglect in prayer leads to vulnerability in temptation.

J. C. Ryle: Bibles read without prayer; sermons heard without prayer; marriages contracted without prayer; journeys undertaken without prayer; residences chosen without prayer; friendships formed without prayer; the daily act of prayer itself hurried over, or gone through without heart: these are the kind of downward steps by which many a Christian descends to a condition of spiritual palsy, or reaches the point where God allows them to have a tremendous fall.

Source: J. C. Ryle, Practical Religion, 70–71.

John Owen: If we do not abide in prayer, we will abide in temptation. Let this be one aspect of our daily intercession: “God, preserve my soul, and keep my heart and all its ways so that I will not be entangled.” When this is true in our lives, a passing temptation will not overcome us. We will remain free while others lie in bondage.

Source: John Owen, Triumph Over Temptation, 165.

Charles Spurgeon (in a letter to his young son): One of my sweetest joys is to hear that a spirit of prayer is in your school, and that you participate in it. To know that you love the Lord and are mighty in prayer would be my crowning joy; the hope that you do so already is a happy one to me. I should like you to preach; but it is best that you pray; many a preacher has proved a castaway, but never one who has truly learned to pray.

Source: Charles Spurgeon. Cited from Charles Ray, The Life of Charles Haddon Spurgeon, 381.

* * * * *

5. Busyness is never a valid excuse for neglecting prayer.

Martin Luther: Work, work from early until late. In fact, I have so much to do that I shall spend the first three hours in prayer.

 

February 19, 2016


I remember singing this old hymn in church when I was growing up:

O what peace we often forfeit,
O what needless pain we bear,
all because we do not carry
everything to God in prayer.

As a kid, I didn’t think very much about the words. Now I’m thinking a lot about them. They make a huge claim. And if true, they make a huge claim on us.

But are they true? Or are they just naive, simplistic Christian cliché? Do they hold up under the real world weight of complex pain we suffer in the varied afflictions we endure?

All Because We Do Not

To test its truthfulness, we need to peal back the poetic skin and see if it has a Scriptural skeletal structure. And as it turns out, it does:

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6–7)

God’s amazing promise to us through Paul is the power behind the hymn’s simple poetry.

And the promise really is amazing! We must not let the familiarity of these verses make us dull to their edge. God is promising us peace in everything and freedom from controlling anxiety! Peace is ours for the taking.

So if we don’t have the peace of God guarding our hearts and minds, it’s all because we do not . . . do something God calls us to do.

Carry Everything to God in Prayer

The wonderful thing is that what God calls us to do is easy! His is an easy yoke, a light burden (Matthew 11:30). He’s calling us to pray.

And what is prayer? Prayer is asking our generous heavenly Father for whatever it is we wish (Luke 11:13; John 15:7), trusting that he will answer with whatever we need (Luke 11:10; Philippians 4:19). It is casting our anxieties on him, because he cares for us (1 Peter 5:7).

But the only problem with bearing this easy yoke of asking God in faith for what we need is that we often find it hard. And what we find hard about praying is believing God — believing that it’s making any real difference.

Prayer is the native language of faith. That’s why a soul full of trust in God finds prayer almost effortless. But a soul full of doubt finds prayer a heavy burden. Prayerlessness is the muteness of unbelief.

An accurate gauge of our level of faith is how and how much we pray. A growing prayerful dependence on God is evidence of our growing spiritual maturity. And the more we pray in faith in everything, the more we experience the peace of God.

The Secret to Prayerful Dependence: Resting on the Faithful One

Why do we find faith so frequently difficult and therefore prayer such a labor? And what is the secret to realizing the promised peace Paul wrote about and experiencing what it means to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17)?

Hudson Taylor, the great 19th century missionary to China, struggled with this very issue. Here’s how he described his struggle:

I strove for faith, but it would not come; I tried to exercise it, but in vain. Seeing more and more the wondrous supply of grace laid up in Jesus, the fullness of our precious Saviour, my guilt and helplessness seemed to increase. Sins committed appeared but as trifles compared with the sin of unbelief which was their cause, which could not or would not take God at His word, but rather made Him a liar! Unbelief was, I felt, the damning sin of the world; yet I indulged in it. I prayed for faith, but it came not. What was I to do?

Then he experienced a breakthrough that changed his life:

When my agony of soul was at its height, a sentence in a letter from [his missionary colleague, John] McCarthy was used to remove the scales from my eyes, and the Spirit of God revealed to me the truth of our oneness with Jesus as I had never know it before. McCarthy, who had been much exercised by the same sense of failure but saw the light before I did, wrote: “But how to get faith strengthened? Not by striving after faith, but by resting on the Faithful One.” As I read, I saw it all! “If we believe not, he abideth faithful.” I looked to Jesus and saw (and when I saw, oh, how joy flowed!) that He had said, “I will never leave thee.” “Ah, there is rest!” I thought. “I have striven in vain to rest in Him. I’ll strive no more.” (Spiritual Secret, 261)

The key for Taylor was that he stopped focusing on trying to exercise more faith and instead he looked to Jesus, “the Faithful One,” as revealed in the written word. While his focus had been on his lack of faith and trying to work it up, he was miserable. But when his focus turned to the fullness of Jesus, he discovered the peace surpassing understanding.

Faith is not a muscle that we need to pump up in order to be strong enough to trust Jesus. Faith is our response to what we perceive as trustworthy. The more trustworthy, solid, stable, dependable, unfailing, and secure something appears to us, the greater our trust or faith in it will be. When our faith is weak, it’s an indicator that our focus is on the wrong thing.

Taylor’s refocusing transformed him. For the rest of his life he was marked by the peace of God and a remarkable freedom from anxiety. It bore up under the real world weight of his excessive labors, financial stress, frequent dangers, disease, the deaths of his wives and children and colleagues — the sort of difficulties that Paul knew (2 Corinthians 11:23–28).

For the rest of the post…

“A dynamic praying church must be built from the inside out, employing all four levels of prayer: the secret closet, the family altar, small group praying and finally, the congregational setting.”

~ Richard Burr

Pastor Steve Gaines wrote in his book, Pray Like It Matters

Acts 4:31 says, “And when they prayed, the place where they had gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak the word of God with boldness.” God shook them physically and spiritually. I believe that our churches today could use a good spiritual “shaking.” The early Christians prayed, God shook them by filling them with the His Spirit, and then he shook the world as they witnessed boldly for Christ.

God ministered to through them to perform mighty miracles. There was no way to they were going to keep silent. They had “seen and heard” too much from their Lord. Their lives had been radically changed. It all began with prayer! Perhaps if we would pray as they did, we too would be “shaken.” We just might “see and hear” more from the Lord then we do presently (p.24).

We are all in need of something, and as a child of God, He wants to give it to us. But He wants US to seek Him with our whole heart. If what you are praying for is aligned with His will and Word, show Him your faith! Consistently and boldly break through to HIM and He will give you your breakthrough!

For the rest of the post…

 

“Praying in faith is not denying that you have problems, but believing that God is BIGGER than your problems.”

~ Dr. Jerry Fowler

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